Crisis Management and Organizational Development: Towards the Conception of a Learning Model in Crisis Management

Article excerpt


The field of crisis management currently faces two important limitations. First, this field has been distinguished by two major approaches to date, crisis management planning and analysis of organizational contingencies. However, despite what we have learned from these approaches, neither seems to lead to a crisis management learning model that fosters organizational resilience in coping with crises. Secondly, researchers have studied a number of events as case studies but have never synthesized these case studies. Consequently, each crisis seems idiosyncratic and administrators continue to repeat the same errors when a crisis occurs. The research proposal presented in this article1 aims to remove these limitations by bringing together two apparently opposing fields of study, that of crisis management, characterized by what are perceived as specific events, and that of organizational development, characterized by the strengthening of organizations' capacities to cope with lasting changes. The author proposes to explore their potential to work together theoretically and empirically through a research design.

Importance of the Subject

Contrary to a widely-held, persistent belief, crises in contemporary societies can no longer be considered improbable and rare events (Rosenthal & Kouzmin, 1996). The occurrence and diversity of types of crisis in our societies have increased (Hart et al., 2001; Quarantelli, 2001; Robert & Lajtha, 2002). Moreover, the time frame of crises has tended to expand (Hart et al., 2001; Rosenthal & Kouzmin, 1996), along with their geographic spread (Hart et al., 2001; MichelKerjan, 2003a). Crisis management is on the public administration agenda and decision-makers are increasingly put on the carpet and pressed for answers on issues which they often find overwhelming (Boin & Lagadec, 2000; Drabek & Hoetmer, 1991; Fauchant & Mitroff, 1995). Despite accumulated experience in facing disasters, governmental responses are still inept (Piotrowski, 2006; Van Heerden, 2006).The extensive media coverage of events is too frequently oriented towards identifying the "guilty" rather than looking for solutions. Finally, the costs of catastrophes continue to grow (Nathan, 2000; Newkirk, 2001) and the insecurity is hi all the spirits (Michel-Kerjan, 2003b). These are the new realities organizations confront that require a fresh perspective on the issue of crisis management practice, as well as in the area of research.

In addition to research on the industrial catastrophes of Bhopal, Chernobyl or Three Mile Island, and that on natural catastrophes, well-documented by the Disaster Research Center, and its principal investigators, Enrico Quarantelli and Russell Dynes, in recent years, we have seen the addition of research concerns touching a variety of crises in sectors as diverse as health sector (the contaminated blood scandal, SARS, and avian flu), the political and humanitarian sector (the Rwandan genocide and Darfur), the international relations sector and the growth of terrorism (the World Trade Center, Oklahoma City bombing, the London attack and the train attack in Madrid, Spain) and bioterrorism (Anthrax attack), the agrobusiness sector (mad cow disease and the risks associated with genetically modified food), the environmental sector (deforestation, the thinning of the ozone layer and global warming), the business sector (Enron) and the multiplication of so-called natural catastrophes such as the Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the dangers associated with West Nile virus, the heat wave in Europe, the earthquake in Bhan in Iran, the tsunami in Southeast Asia and many others. Furthermore, a recent inventory carried out by Rosenthal, Boin, and Comfort (2001) reflects this diversity of interests and the increasingly multidisciplinary nature of the field, which is another new reality that researchers are just beginning to recognize. This diversity - from Katrina, through SARS to terrorists attacks - presents new challenges to academics and practitioners in crisis management (MichelKerjan, 2003a). …